Fighting Poverty with Passion
My name is Stephen Barkan and I am the AmeriCorps VISTA at unCommon Construction. The organization has an apprenticeship program for currently enrolled high school students, teaching them baseline construction techniques and life & career skills through the process of building a house. The program is similar in model to GrowDat’s and Café Reconcile, in which young people whom society has underserved learn a skill or trade to develop their personal and professional abilities, leading to improved hireability. However, I believe unCommon Construction’s program surpasses the effectiveness of those programs for a number of reasons. First, the activity of construction lends itself particularly well to character building. It is a demanding process, in which people must learn to work as a team, supporting each other and taking responsibility for the actions of their peers. Second, the culmination of the program – a completed house – is a lasting monument to the success and accomplishments of the youth, something that they can drive past 10 years from now and say “I built that.” And construction is not an easy feat! It’s a highly technical, very specific process that most people can not do. In my short time here, I have been completely overwhelmed by construction jargon and how much thought and calculation goes into building. The fact that high schoolers can do it is just plain cool. And third, construction jobs are in high demand in New Orleans, and are fulfilling, high paying careers for which a 4-year degree is not required. That being said, if apprentices do plan on enrolling in higher education, many of the character traits empowered by building apply to that path as well, and the unCommon Construction staff do a great job of working with each apprentice to ensure their goals are achieved.
My work here so far has been focused on three main projects: social media and website, fundraising, and volunteer management.
Social Media and Website
I have drafted a social media plan for the organization, including weekly post types on each platform, and once our apprenticeship program begins (this week), it will be my responsibility to keep up with the plan and iterate as necessary. Also I spent a lot of time helping redesign the organization’s website. Check it out here: http://www.uncommonconstruction.org
I’ve been doing a lot of grant research and writing, but right now I am mostly focusing on some upcoming events we will host this fall, including a happy hour and dinner/cocktail party.
This has been by far the most involved project I have worked on so far, and basically encompasses the entire experience for volunteers at uCC. This project has included doing market research (volunteering around the city and tracking the good/bad of each organization’s practices), designing email templates and other materials, and brainstorming the processes that need to happen to make the program a success.
In other big news, I will be moving into my new office soon. This summer, the apprentice cohort built a tiny home that will serve as the uCC office, and once it is hooked up to power, I will start working from it instead of at Propeller, where I currently am located. I’m excited for this because it will be located at the build site, so I will not be disconnected from the rest of the uCC staff as I have been so far.
Thanks for reading,